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Opioid remedies discussed at WV Chamber Summit (The State Journal)


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Among the many topics discussed over the course of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 83rd annual business summit was the extent to which the opioid epidemic can reach and how the business community can be a part of the solution.

Several speakers shared their perspectives on the crisis including those who battled drug addiction personally and those who turned tragedy born out of drug addiction into action on a large scale.

“This is a war we are waging as a nation, declared in some sectors but not in others,” said John Hindman, a long time employee of technology company Leidos which has a large footprint in North Central West Virginia.

Hindman told the summit of how his 30-year-old son, Sean, died of a drug overdose in 2016.

“We were open and honest about his passing in his obituary and that attracted the attention of a writer from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette who wrote a series called Overdosed and numerous other articles since then,” Hindman said. “He interviewed us on the day of Sean’s wake which was a Friday and the article ran Saturday. The reaction to that article helped me start to find my voice.”

Hindman said this experience prompted him to alert Leidos CEO Roger Krone to the plight of Leidos employees across the nation. Six weeks later he received a response from Krone: “You broke me down. We’re all in.”

He said his reaching through to the top on such a personal issue is something that doesn’t often happen in corporate America but the result was a mobilization of Leidos to do what it can on multiple fronts when it comes to opioids. Internally, the company looked at opioid prescription rates.

“We saw that they were all out of whack, so the first thing we did was limit it to seven days, not 28 days or 30 days, seven complaints,” Hindman said. “Thus began the formulation of our externally facing campaign. What has happened is Leidos has partnered with numerous entities around the country—The Truth Initiative, the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, Shatterproof— leveraging the strength of these initiatives that work in this area.

We started a partnership with the Baltimore Ravens. It’s truly a top-down initiative. This will probably be my new career with Leidos and I have no objections to that.”

Dr. Lyn O’Connell is the associate director of community services in the department of family and community health’s division of addiction sciences at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and Marshall Health.

She said the incessant protrayal of West Virginia in general and the Huntington area in particular as a downtrodden area riddled with drug addiction through a purely black and white filter devoid of color doesn’t bode well. If anything, it perpetuates a stigma that makes helping those with substance abuse disorder all the more difficult especially when it comes to them getting back on their feet.

“It’s what causes employers not to give people a chance,” she said, adding that this stigma leads to more unnecessary suffering. “That’s because we’ve decided that some people are helping and others are not. We looked at our continuum of care and noted that there are gaps to address.”

O’Connell said Marshall Health is working to address this through a program called Creating Opportunities for Recovery Employment or CORE which establishes career pathway and educational placement for its participants.

Jason Pritchard, a community and coalition engagement specialist with Ballad Health, said he was one of those who beat the odds but it wasn’t easy. He served five years in prison for drug related offenses due to his addiction and the only work he could find after the fact was at a restaurant despite possessing a degree in finance from Virginia Tech.

When he did join Ballad Health, he said his boss told him that he shouldn’t have been interviewed let along hired and HR even went back to make sure he was telling the truth when he checked the box for ‘convicted felon’ on his application. He did.

“You could feel the air leave the room,” Pritchard said regarding his interview process. He added that his church and other groups encouraged him to tell his story of eight years of recovery. “We do recover and once we recover we just need a second chance, and we’re not asking for a hand-out. We’re asking for a hand-up, and if we want people to recover then we need to be willing to grant that hand-up and look past the past and see the person.”

Brian Gallagher, Chairman of Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, suggested taking a page out of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s playbook and bring back something akin to the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide meaningful work for those willing to do it while they recover. He said such an entity could help revitalize the state’s parks or build new playgrounds at schools.

”We need to start seeing people in recovery as assets rather than liabilities,” he said. “With all the needs we have, the opportunities are endless. This isn’t easy but we have to do it because the future of our state and nation are in the balance.”

Business Editor Conor Griffith can be reached by at 304-395-3168 or by email at

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